Tagged: euthanasia

Smart collaboration bears “ego fruit”

In a world where the natural environment is under siege, it takes a shift in mindset to find comfort in the despoiled surroundings of our urban cityscapes. David Bridie, leader of enduring Melbourne chamber-pop group My Friend the Chocolate Cake, points out that often the most spectacular sunsets occur in polluted cities.

He speaks of crossing the West Gate Bridge, glancing down at the petrochemical plants and docks below. “It could be this grim industrial landscape, but from a certain point of view it’s just absolutely beautiful,” he says. And so was born a homage to the late, great Australian realist painter, Jeffrey Smart (Silver City): “We search out sanctuary, we search for stillness / We grasp at anything that’s out of the way / Sometimes the only thing to make it all spark / Is see the world through the eyes of Jeffrey Smart.”

Music entrepreneur Paul Cashmere, CEO of website Noise11.com, knew Bridie. He also knew Stephen Rogers, Smart’s archivist, and put the two in touch. Rogers was a fan of Bridie’s solo album Act Of Free Choice, though he thought “like everybody else” that My Friend the Chocolate Cake was “the world’s worst band name”.

But he loved the song – “You have to love the line, ‘shipping containers on the Cahill Expressway’” he says – and offered the group free access to Smart’s images, which are extensively used in Silver City’s accompanying video. “I don’t think they could believe we’d let them do that, but they treated them with absolute reverence.”

Towards the end of Smart’s life, Rogers convinced the artist to spend $45,000 digitising film transparencies of his work, against the wishes of some of his friends who thought it a waste of money. With the video, it paid off. “That stuff we did 20 years ago was used, and I could provide an image in five minutes.”

The song is the lead single from My Friend the Chocolate Cake’s seventh studio album, The Revival Meeting, their first since 2011’s Fiasco. Despite the long time lag – Bridie fits the group around multiple other solo projects, soundtrack work and his not-for-profit label Wantok Musik – it’s up there with the group’s best early work.

“We weren’t sure we were going to do another record, and then we were,” Bridie confesses. “Then we sort of effortlessly moved into that mode … I wasn’t sure whether we had it in us to do a really strong record. I didn’t want to be a band that just put out a record so that we could go on tour again.”

Part of the band’s initial reticence, but also drive to carry on, was provided by the passing of Andrew Carswell, whose mandolin and tin whistle playing was a crucial part of the band’s sound. Before his death, Carswell had recorded some parts with Bridie for another project, but they ended up on three of the album’s songs.

Carswell’s passing was tragic, and shouldn’t have ended the way it did. Like Bridie, he had Hepatitis C, practically an epidemic among Australian musicians of a certain age. But where Bridie is now thankfully clear of the illness, for Carswell it caused terminal complications.

Bridie explains Carswell’s own act of free choice. “He wouldn’t mind me talking about it in this way, because Andrew was going down really fast at the end; it was really awful,” Bridie says. “He was in a lot of pain and there was no future in it at all, and so he took himself up to the hills and did himself in.

“It wasn’t a problematic issue for him, it was just totally common sense. He loved living and he had a great life, and so it was actually a really beautiful death in its own way, but unnecessarily messy.” Carswell’s widow has since become active in Andrew Denton’s Dying With Dignity campaign for legal euthanasia.

Bridie says the lyrics of The Revival Meeting reflect a band that’s “at an older stage of our career and life”. He and cellist Helen Mountfort formed the band at the turn of the 1990s, when their other celebrated band Not Drowning, Waving was still a going concern.

Not Drowning, Waving was a pioneering group, championed by Peter Gabriel, and unfortunately saddled with the “world music” tag, primarily thanks to their album Tabaran, recorded with George Telek and other musicians from Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, a connection which Bridie maintains to this day via Wantok Musik.

But, he says, it took half a truck just to get Not Drowning, Waving’s gear to rehearsals, and the idea of My Friend the Chocolate Cake was that everyone could get to practice taking their instrument on a tram (except for Bridie, who played piano, meaning early rehearsals were usually at his parents’ place).

It’s not an easy time to be a middle-aged artist in an industry obsessed with youth and in a shrinking media landscape. Chocolate Cake are fortunate to have an audience that’s loyal to the point of being rusted on: friends bring other friends; parents take their children; this writer, in a very un-rock & roll move, once took his mum.

Rogers draws a parallel between the work of Bridie, his band and “Mr Smart”, as he still calls his former employer and, seemingly, everyone else. “A little bit like Mr Bridie, Mr Smart was very true to his craft, even when the particular sort of art he was making didn’t sell,” he says.

“He was a realist, and in the 1960s everybody wanted abstraction – he just couldn’t bring himself to do abstraction. He could do it, he just didn’t like it, and so he stuck to his guns, and worked away at perfecting it. A little bit like Mr Bridie, I think he’s always done what he wanted to do or what mattered to him.

“Longevity, I think, is to be admired. Working at your craft, making your music or your art as well as you can and getting better each time – that’s got an awful lot to be said for it, rather than the shock of the new and the search for the avant-garde.”

Smart was a classical buff – a lover of Wagner especially, with over 2500 CDs in his library, 300 of which he kept in his studio to soundtrack his painting. Rogers isn’t sure whether he would have liked My Friend the Chocolate Cake’s music, but is certain he would have enjoyed the tribute, which he would have called “ego fruit”.

“That was his phrase!” Rogers says. “When somebody would send him a nice fan letter or he’d get a nice reference somewhere, he’d send you a copy and say “look at this ego fruit!”

And Bridie and Smart, he says, have something else in common. “Mr Smart’s art is very hard, in terms of the avant-garde world; it’s very hard to pigeonhole. He sort of stood to one side of your mainstream art market. He was a realist working in a classical tradition and stayed true to his craft.

“David’s a little bit the same … [My Friend the Chocolate Cake] has that bittersweet melancholy with a slight twist of humour, which was often what Mr Smart’s art was about. Often, as Mr Bridie points out, celebrating what’s around us. You know, we live in the cities; we don’t live in the billabongs.”

First published in Spectrum (The Age/Sydney Morning Herald), 21 July 2017

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Wishin’ and hopin’ on gay marriage

It’s only three weeks ago that I ventured the opinion (along with many other commentators) that Julia had her mojo back, or at least was on the kind of roll that Labor hadn’t enjoyed for at least a couple of years. For the first time in her Prime Ministership, momentum seemed to be with her. Perhaps we should have known in advance that a stumble couldn’t be far away.

When the carbon tax bills were passed in early October, she spoke about being on the right side of history. She was correct. Whatever the Coalition crows about in opposition, they will not be able to escape the cost – be it political, economic or environmental – of climate change in even the short term. No amount of wishin’ and hopin’ will make this issue go away.

So too for same-sex marriage. Yet, for reasons best known to herself, Julia’s decided to put herself on the wrong side of history. I’m guessing it’s something to do with keeping those “faceless men” from the Right faction who installed her in power happy – notably the Catholic, socially conservative Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association secretary Joe De Bruyn.

De Bruyn has issued dire warnings that Labor stands to lose up to 15 seats at the next election should it change its party platform to allow “equal access to marriage … irrespective of sex” at the ALP’s national conference this weekend. Yet the polls don’t indicate any such thing, with a clear majority of voters supporting the legal recognition of same-sex unions. According to a Herald/Nielsen poll two weeks ago, even 50 percent of coalition voters are in favour of change.

Here in Queensland, the state ALP has heaped further pressure on its federal colleagues by legalising same-sex civil unions overnight. The arguments against by the LNP were predictably risible, with opposition legal affairs spokesman Jarrod Bleijie telling parliament that “Civil partnerships is not on a priority list in the minds of Queenslanders … The passing of this bill will not save Queenslanders money, it will not ease cost of living pressures, it will not get our triple-A credit rating back.”

Well, so what? As Tim Dick writes for Fairfax online today:

“The arguments for the secular state admitting gay couples into civil matrimony are so clear, so well traversed, and those against dismissed so soundly, that we are left dealing with the twin remaining forces of opposition: political fear, and prejudice. There is not one valid reason to oppose civil marriage for gay people. None.Yet some think it ought not to be a priority, as if doing the right thing by fellow citizens should wait until the mythical day on which the rest of the public agenda is exhausted, when schools and hospitals want for nothing, when plagues and pestilence have been banished and when eternal peace has descended upon all the world. Until there is nothing else to do. Only then can the gays have their day.”

If gay marriage is not on anyone’s priority list (other than those who are directly affected by discrimination) then it’s hard to see how it’s going to have a major impact on the ALP’s electoral fortunes, other than perhaps win a few votes back from the Greens. Which in turn makes it harder to understand why Gillard has chosen to fight another battle she can’t win.

To recap, Gillard’s tried to shore up her right flank without doing herself any damage on her left by opting for a conscience vote. It’s backfired badly. Conscience votes are usually reserved for life and death issues (abortion and euthanasia), not human rights issues. For a supposedly progressive party which believes in equality of opportunity, this issue has long since passed the point of being a no-brainer.

Intellectually, she’s been totally outgunned. Repeating the blandishment that marriage is between a man and a woman doesn’t cut much ice when you have the likes of Penny Wong (from the Left) and ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr (from the Right) inside your own party, writing cogent and very personal arguments for change for both the broadsheet and online media alike.

The vote at the conference will be tight, but even if Gillard manages to hold her breath and the numbers with it, I can’t see it doing anything but damage to her authority and her dignity. Should the numbers go against her, there’s the risk of a party split, with some members on the Right indicating they’ll thwart any attempt to change the laws in parliament by crossing the floor. Should she hold sway, the issue will only continue to fester, with the party risking losing more votes and members to the Greens.

Labor has far more to gain than lose by rolling with the tide here. Hold it back and they’ll continue to be swamped. Oh, and there goes your mojo, Julia.